Democratic leaders of the Colorado House of Representatives and the chair of the state Democratic Party on Wednesday called on state Rep. Jovan Melton to resign in the wake of a report that he was arrested twice years ago on allegations of domestic violence.
Meanwhile, a woman involved in one of the incidents, in 2008, told Colorado Politics exclusively earlier Wednesday that there was no act of domestic violence.
“Jovan is a good guy,” said the woman. “I believe in him.”
Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran of Denver, Majority Leader KC Becker of Boulder and Assistant Majority Leader Alec Garnett of Denver said in a statement Wednesday afternoon that the allegations first revealed in a Denver Post story Tuesday are “deeply disturbing and very serious. We have spoken with Rep. Melton privately and encouraged him to resign.”
It is Melton’s decision “whether to step down,” the three lawmakers’ statement continued. In addition, they said, “we recognize that the criminal justice system has not worked for far too many people of color and survivors. People should not necessarily be precluded from running for office because they have issues in their past. But we urge him to consider the seriousness of the story and the impact on the people of his district and on the public confidence in the legislature.”
Morgan Carroll, a former state senator who now chairs the Colorado Democratic Party, issued a similar call for Melton to step down. “The incidents detailed against Representative Melton are shocking and saddening. I have privately told Rep. Melton that I think it is in the best interest of his district for him to step down. At the end of the day, public service is about putting the public first.”
Colorado Politics has reached out to Melton for a comment. He has not indicated so far whether he will step down.
The House leaders’ statement was issued in the wake of a statement from a Republican leader accusing Democrats of a “cover-up” in the matter. Neville later pointed out that in 2015 and 2016, Republican Rep. Kevin Van Winkle of Highlands Ranch had sponsored legislation to prevent the sealing of domestic violence records that the Democratic majority “squashed.”
“This was a cover-up orchestrated in the highest halls of Democrat leadership,” Neville told Colorado Politics. “Twice, they killed a bill that would’ve required unsealing of domestic violence convictions. What would Rep. Melton’s records show today, if the Republican legislation had passed?”
Melton is the deputy majority whip in the Colorado House and vice chair of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus. He is running unopposed for his fourth and final term.
The current Majority Whip is Rep. Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood, who elected not to run for a fourth term and instead is vying for a state Senate seat.
Melton, an Aurora Democrat, was arrested twice on suspicion of domestic violence, first in 1999 when he was a student at the University of Colorado Boulder and again in 2008.
In the 1999 case, Melton was convicted of harassment, given a 12-month suspended sentence and placed under a permanent restraining order.
He issued a statement first provided to Colorado Politics Tuesday, in which he apologized to both the victim in the 1999 incident and to the alleged victim in 2008.
“While I categorically deny any allegations that suggest any violence against the women involved, I am both embarrassed and heartbroken to be reminded of my immaturity all those years ago,” Melton told Colorado Politics Tuesday. “As a victim of childhood violence, to have caused pain and anguish for these women is horrible and for that I am sorry. I hope that both women can forgive me for the emotional pain that I’ve caused them.”
State Rep. Leslie Herod, a fellow member of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus, pushed back Wednesday against the leadership’s call for Melton to step aside.
Herod, D-Denver, who has gained attention as the first openly gay African-American to be elected to Colorado’s state legislature, told Jeff Fard, a journalist and community organizer also known as Brother Jeff, in a Facebook Live event that she believes a person should be able to serve in the legislature regardless of background.
When it comes to the incident with Melton, however, someone she’s known since 2000, “It’s really hard to see the reports and what’s going on,” she told Fard. “My heart breaks.”
As to the calls for Melton’s resignation, she said, the leadership is “acting in haste. We don’t have all the facts.”
In a statement issued before the announcement from House Democratic leaders, House Minority Leader Patrick Neville of Castle Rock said: “I was saddened and disappointed when I read the news report regarding the past behavior of Representative Melton. … [But] “what is most offensive is finding out that the Democrats continue to cover up the actions of their members while promoting them to positions of leadership within their caucus and in our state legislature, where their abusive behavior can continue.”
The statement addressed the Melton allegations as well as the earlier expulsion of former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock, who was voted out of the House on a 52-9 vote on March 2. The expulsion was tied to complaints of sexual misconduct by five women and for retaliating against his victims.
House Republicans alleged during the session that Duran and Garnett knew about sexual harassment accusations against Lebsock “but turned a blind eye to ensure his reelection and then promoted him to leadership positions within the Democrat caucus,” according to Neville’s statement.
Neville also brought up a harassment and bullying complaint made against Melton by fellow Democratic Rep. Donald Valdez of La Jara. “This is what Colorado gets from the Democrats: a habitually abusive person in leadership in our legislature,” Neville said in the statement.
Earlier Wednesday, the woman involved in the 2008 incident — who has been married to Melton since 2009 — contacted Colorado Politics and agreed to be interviewed on condition she not be named in a story. Colorado Politics independently verified that the woman interviewed was the one involved in the 2008 incident.
According to the 2008 police report, which Colorado Politics reviewed, Melton and the alleged victim were traveling along Interstate 70 when they began to argue. The report said the alleged victim was driving, while Melton was in the front passenger seat. Melton allegedly put the car into neutral and then struck the alleged victim in the face, the report said. The car then crashed into a guardrail.
But there was no domestic violence or assault in the 2008 incident, the woman in the incident told Colorado Politics. The charge was later dismissed.
“I didn’t feel like my side of the story was told,” she said. What happened in 2008 was a misunderstanding that “was totally blown out of proportion” by the arresting officer.
“There wasn’t anything violent that happened,” she said, adding she believed the arrest was racially motivated.
“Jovan is not a violent person. I was not a victim of him being violent in any way,” she said.
She did acknowledge that they had been having a verbal argument prior to the accident, but added: “Jovan is a good guy. I believe in him.”